Once upon a time, when I was a little girl taking piano lessons, I noticed it was “cool” for the older students, after delivering an impressive performance of a Beethoven sonata or Rachmaninoff concerto, to rise with an air of lazy nonchalance, saunter back to their seats, and casually mutter, “Only got to practice two hours this whole week.”
Growing up, I’ve always lived in new-built homes. First, and foggy in my memory, was a land-hugging white wooden ranch with a red front door, and a swing-set in the backyard whose ominous height prompted its nickname “The Gallows.” Later came another white wood house, this one with two stories, green shutters, and a storybookish stone fireplace warming the center of the home. Most enduring was the Georgian red brick overhung with live oaks and gray moss, whose double doors made a little girl think she was entering church.
What was the most significant thought or skill that you learned in this study?
What was the least significant thought or skill that you learned in this study?
What did I do in presenting this that furthered your learning?
What did I do in presenting this that obstructed your learning?
What line or passage moved you the most in this reading?
What from this study do you want to remember?
What advice would you give next year’s students in studying this?
Classical teachers become classical teachers because they have fallen in love with the Good, and, like all who are in love, can speak of nothing but the beloved. Their deep desire to capture, as in a prism, a beam of the Good, and to display its glory refracted through literature and music and art and philosophy and the maths and sciences, compels them into the classroom.
In the press and rush of planning, grading, lecturing, it becomes easy to think that the end of teaching is to plan, to grade, to lecture—and so to confuse the means of teaching with its ends: the getting of wisdom, the forming of virtue, the knowing of God, and the making of friends.
If anything defined my childhood summers, it was The Play.
When the last student closed my classroom door after the final period on the concluding day of the school year this past May, and I was left in the room alone with the memories of all the people and conversations that had filled it for the past ten months, I knelt in the middle of the untidy tables and chairs, and felt overwhelmed by two things: my sins and God’s grace.
It is nearly Christmas. Has any drama of history stirred as much music and poetry, art and imagination, as the stable-birth we celebrate this day? The ancient world could never stop chanting of the battles of Troy; but it is the Incarnation that has filled the mouths and hands of artists ever since Christ’s birth. Of all this abundance, Benjamin Britten’s “This Little Babe” occupies a mere minute-and-a-half. Yet in that breath of time, it offers musical and poetic metaphors of the Nativity that press listeners to wonder and worship at the paradoxes of the Incarnation.
We had been practicing the common topics of rhetoric for several weeks when one of the students approached me after class, brow furrowed. “Miss Brigham,” he confided, “these things are messing with me.”
(My teacher’s heart rejoiced within me. If “things messing with me” means assumptions and desires being displaced, upended, rearranged, then surely this is an excellent—albeit colloquial—definition of learning itself.)